Engineers at the University of Alberta are fine-tuning a new type of smart label that will change colors to notify you if the food has gone bad. As a consumer, you wont notice a difference in the packaging as it will look virtually the same. However, the main upgrade will be that the label will change from blue to white or cloudy if the food is filled with bacteria.
Theres a number of reasons it could go bad ranging from previous contamination, like a spread of Salmonella, to the food simply expiring. At the same time, expiry dates arent always accurate as eggs tend to last much longer than the label indicates while other foods can become bacteria beds long before the expiry date — especially if not properly stored.
The challenge for most of us is that with certain foods its hard to tell if theyve become infested with bacteria. Sometimes there will be a clear discoloration or a noticeably pungent smell, but some food items dont give us the signs. And then theres the fact that were just hungry and dont want to waste money or time, so well try to push the boundaries of expirations since its right in front of us to eat. In any case, this would be a huge help when fridge surfing, and if youre a single male bachelor this could single-handedly save you upset stomach and food poisoning at least a couple of times a year.
While the researchers are first focusing on food safety in terms of expiry and contamination, its only a matter of time before smart food labeling expands to other realms. Theres a big push to get better labeling on grocery store products — especially in the United States with GMOs — and while we hear lots about smarter labeling, its often this type of smart that were referring to.
This is just the start, but there are smart labels in the works that involve technology where you can scan with your phone to get ingredients and quickly understand what they are. Weve seen some apps pop up to try and help the consumer out, such as GoodGuide. They provide a different type of safety with reviews on whats really inside the product and whether its detrimental to your health. Consumers are becoming hungrier for transparency from food corporations, so that we know exactly what were getting when were shopping — especially as the gluten-free and GMO-avoiding crowds continue to include greater numbers.
This is a three-year project that in its second year, but the results are fairly positive so far. One of the last steps is to make this affordable enough so that food corporations get on board. Its not expected to be a huge hurdle not just because they want to please the consumer. Theyre interested because theyll be able to save money in terms of food recalls by catching the problem early.